Thursday, 26 May 2016

It's raining it's pouring

The Safari's Base Camp twilight bat bonanza came to nought last night, no self respecting bat was going to come out and fly round in heavy rain like that and we didn't fancy standing out on the patio for the best part of an hour waiting for it not to show. Still, there's always tonight. 
This morning there was unexpected excitement when a Jackdaw came down to feed on the fat block. This is the first time in 13 years at Base camp we've seen one actually within the confines of the garden rather than flying over or occasionally hopping round on the garage roof.
Taken from across the length of the sitting room through a double glazed window in the gloom at ISO stupid
It was flushed by an lone adult Starling dropping in for a beakful which in turn was flushed by a Magpie which didn't visit the feeder in the end.
Minutes later the male House Sparrow was on the other feeder. WOW it's all go here!
Before long the Magpie was back.
And so was the House Sparrow but this time it didn't drop on to the feeder just linger briefly on the top of the pergola from which the feeders hang and then flew off over the garage roof.
A well grown fledgling Blackbird disappeared into our log store by the back kitchen door for several minutes, perhaps sheltering from the rain and/or hunting for spiders/
Later in the afternoon after a very quiet spell there was a little flurry of activity with a very brief return of the Jackdaw, a Blue Tit with a wing fluttering fledgling on the suet block and this rather unexpected Long Tailed Tit. Just shows you what could be about that you miss by being at work or out on safari elsewhere.
Apologies for the poor pic, it's mid afternoon at the end of May and as gloomy as gloomy gets, it's almost dark out there and only 11C - should be about 17C!
Very late, while tea was cooking, the ringed Greenfinch came in for a while and then the male House Sparrow came in for some supper. Not much sign of many invertebrates today, hardly surprising given the weather! The mystery orchid hasn't opened any further either.
Where to next? We're really hoping for better weather tomorrow so we can sit out and get some fresh air. Stitches come out tomorrow afternoon which is good.
In the meantime let us know who's providing all the excitement in your outback.


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Base Camp update

The Safari hasn't had the most exciting of times these last couple of days. The weather  has taken a turn for the worse, we've lost the sun and gained a strong and chilly breeze, not really conducive to sitting outside. However it hasn't been all bad it's just that the highlights have been fewer and we've had to wait for them!
The sun was still shining yesterday morning bringing a Large White butterfly into the garden and then another and another, or possibly the same one doing a circuit. Eventually one/it settled to nectar on an Aubretia flower growing in one of Wifey's tubs. It was away withing seconds so no chance of a pic.
One of the pressies we received for Christmas was a year's subs to Birdwatch magazine, every month they have a competition which we don't normally enter. April's competition was different, it was for a Hawke telescope and seeing how Wifey has  been enjoying using her Hawke EDs we entered. After being away for well over a week and then going into hossy we thought we'd best check and delete some emails. One was from Heather, at first we thought it was someone we knew wanting to meet up for an exiting safari somewhere or other; but no  it wasn't that Heather it was Heather from the magazine - we'd WON!!! We never win anything ever, so much so that we probably paid for the 2012 Olympics alone with all our failed lottery tickets...And this was her second email as we'd not responded to the first seeing as how we were mostly incommunicado down in Cornwall. 
Mid-mornig there was a knock on the door we answered to see a cheery chappy holding a reasonably sized parcel...Unpacking it one handed took a good while but we got there in the end.
Thank you Birdwatch mag and Hawke optics
We have a cunning plan for it...
Just about the last of the sunshine brought a dragonfly racing over the fence and hovering far too briefly over the pond before shooting off into the clear blue sky beyond the garage roof. The action happened so fast we didn't get a really good look at it but it was probably a 4-Spotted Chaser, an extremely rare visitor to Base Camp - we haven't even had sight nor sign of any damselflies yet.  
That was the end of the sunshine and any further excitement until the male House Sparrow put in  a similarly brief appearance although he did  land on the mixed seed feeder and grab a beakful so hopefully he'll be back more regularly in the near future...with wife n kids in tow???
While pottering around in the garden with Wifey inspecting her pot plants after tea we heard a Swift screaming nearby but didn't see it. More thrilling was seeing the first bat of the year at Base Camp as darkness fell and we were out inspecting Wifey's multi-coloured forever-changing LED garden lamps. We're not certain but think it might well have come from the bat box our Extreme Photographer put up a couple of years ago.
Tonight's job will be to test our hypothesis...provided the bat(s?) play ball and decide to show themselves - it's pretty darned cold out there today!
So darned cold in fact that we've seen virtually nothing through the window, far too cold to sit outside. Early morning provided the bulk of today's interest when a pair of Greenfinches turned up at the feeders, the male sporting a BTO type metal ring. Getting the number off it could be a project for the 150-600mm lens when we can lift the flippin thing. It might not be as easy it it sounds as half an hour later three more Greenfinches appeared, two males and a female, and none of these were blinged up.
With nothing happening we had  quick mooch round with the macro lens mid-afternoon
Common Speedwell, each flower is no more than 5mm across
The garden's first Ox-Eye Daisy of the summer - we'll get a better pic of the
Fibonacci Sequence as the disc flowers open fully in due course
There's little other news other than the Starlings haven't been back so probably can't smell, or don't like the smell of, the fat blocks we've put out for them. The only one that has returned is a juvenile that came to bathe in our ornamental waterfall.
Not from Base Camp but something that concerns us greatly was recent news of yet another Red Kite being shot in Yorkshire. What are these people on? They're a worm, beetle and dead Rabbit eating scavenger, no threat to anything...apart from worms, beetles and dead Rabbits. We'd love to see them in Lancashire but they seem incapable of crossing the moorland separating the two counties - we wonder why. 
Hall Lane is the short lane the poor bird was found crashing around under a hedge. What a shame - What a foul crime. The by far the most likely culprits are the Neanderthals involved in grouse shooting - ohh look there's lots and lots of ruined upland habitat nearby. For those that don't know rectangular strips of Heather (No, not our friend or the nice lady from the magazine) are burned in rotation to provide new growth for the Red Grouse to eat so there are many more of them to shoot than the habitat could normally hold. 
Nothing with a hooky beak or sharp claws must get in the way of those 'grice'. How can you help stop this carnage, not only of Red Kites but Peregrines, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Buzzards, Ospreys, Golden and White Tailed Eagles (in Scotland), Foxes, Stoats, Weasels, Badgers, Pine Martens (in Scotland), Wild Cats (in Scotland - yes they even kill the rarest cat on the planet!!!) even seemingly innocuous Mountain Hares suffer horrendous and probably unsustainable slaughters (they carry ticks which could spread disease to the grouse). 
If you haven't already please sign this petition and pass it on - if you have get a friend or two to sign; lets get beyond the 100,000 signatures required to bring about a debate in Parliament and please everyone spread the word to your non-wildlifey friends, it affects them too through higher water bills (peat stained water has to be cleaned before it gets to our taps), higher home insurance (through increased flood risk) and increased carbon emissions (through burning on what should be active wet peat bogs) and more!
If an industry can't operate without the need for regular illegal activities it needs to be shut down ASAP. The more people who know how bad it is and how it affects them directly and indirectly the better. Our uplands deserve better than this shower of sh*tes!
Where to next? More sitting at Base Camp staring through the window - unless the sun comes out of course.
In the meantime let us know who's got the best numbers in your outback.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Do starlings smell?

The Safari was back at the hospital this morning to get our wound checked over and fresh, and very much reduced, dressings - what a relief, much more comfortable and mobile now, so much so we are able to wield the camera almost effectively for short periods at least.
The stitches come out at the end of the week, then it'll throb a bit!
Before we went into hospital we did the newt/amphibian survey during which we saw our first Yellow Flags in flower.




A little more interesting were these tiny beetles we found on many of the leaves in the gathering gloom.
We'd had the pics on the phone since then and yesterday we were able to put them on iSpot. By morning those clever iSpotters had come up with an ID. A fairly obvious ID but very welcome, so what are they? Iris Flea Beetles was the answer.
Back at Base Camp the other day we discovered that the only used cell in our little bug hotel was open, its occupant having pupated successfully over winter, metamorphosed into an adult and cut its way out - will it bring some friends this summer?
Also spotted, this time in our old Belfast sink which used to have alpines in it but is now mostly self-sown Cowslips. At first we thought the flat bladed leaves were from perhaps a miniature Tulip but over the last couple of days we're now certain its a Marsh Orchid of some description. We'll have to wait a few more days to find out which species when the flowers open fully.
We've been enjoying sitting in the sunshine in the garden listening to the birds once the dire noise pollution from the rush-hour traffic has died down. There's always a Woodpigeon or two hanging around hoping for some more scram.
There are two rival Blackbirds who sing at each other almost all day long. This one is in the Rowan tree at the end of next door's garden behind our garage. His rival was singing from a nearby chimney pot, less than 50 yards away, small territories it would seem so they must be of good quality.
While we were listening to those two with the local Song Thrush giving his four-penneth too we heard our first Blackcap (Garden #26) at Base Camp this year. Interestingly we've had a few Starlings visit today, very scarce here. We had, with somewhat of a struggle, put out some fat squares and within minutes we had visitors. How did they know it was there? We'd seen none flying over so could they smell the new food source. How nosey is a Starling?



It wasn't just the Starlings that made an appearance on the Scarce List. We also had a visit from a male House Sparrow that shot over the garden and landed briefly on the other next door's feeders before returning the way it came over our garden again. Bizarrre, we didn't know there were any sparrows locally in that direction. Luckily it came back and spent no more than a couple of minutes in our garden hopping around our pot plants. 
With no further bird action we turned our attention to the plants. We tried some macro shots but it was too windy with most of the flowers shaking around like Whirling Dervishes. The Thrift in the same tub as the orchid was just about the only robust and sheltered enough specimen for a decent pic.
Later we just about managed to get the new beast out of its box but weren't able to attach it too the camera; there's no way we'll be able to use it for at least a week yet - sooooooo frustrating.



Where to next? We're hoping the sunny weather will last all week so we can sit out and soak up the wild outside.
In the meantime let us know who smells in your outback.


Friday, 20 May 2016

Up on the hill down by the river

The Safari is currently incapacitated after yet another hand op. This disease/condition is really starting to wear a bit thin now!
Last weekend we had a couple of days freedom before going in to hospital and was able to have a good mooch round the garden and a safari further afield. While we were away on holiday the Great Tits have been busy




Today we were thrilled to see that at least one youngster has fledged. Much better than last spring when all the chicks died due to the terrible weather.
We also saw the first Goldfinch juveniles feeding in the garden, over a month earlier than last year when we assume early nests failed.
The Cowslips are still flowering
and our Clematis montana is a joy to behold, trouble is it's even better on the neighbour's (south) side of the fence!
One of our favourite wild flowers, Herb Robert, is just coming in to flower. There's lots in the garden which is good cos the bees love it.
On Sunday we picked up BD and had a drive out east and up hill. We went to the popular country park with a particular target species in mind. Although the sun was out it wasn't as busy as we'd expected we had the trails mostly to our selves save for the odd family out for a dog walk and/or picnic. 
In the peaty wetter areas off-piste where the conifer trees have been felled Cotton Grass was coming into flower.
It took a while before we heard the Guinea-Pig-like last few notes of our quarry's song. Once we heard it we soon located the singer and a rival! Tree Pipits (159), they gave great views as the made their song flights around the tree tops.
After enjoying the Tree Pipits for a good while BD suggested we take the lower path along the edge of the trees back to the car park. It turned out to be decision of the day when we came across two dark moths spiraling around each other. Unsure of their ID we waited for them to settle. It was then we saw they weren't moths at all but Green Hairstreak butterflies, a species we've not seen at this site for about 30 years - obviously we've missed them as we don't visit anything like as often as we did in the old days.



Before returning to the car we had a look round the pond where Bog Bean was in flower.
What weird and intriguing petals it has - what is all that fluffy stuff for? Does it help trap/direct pollinating insects?
One pollinator had a lucky escape when spotted it struggling in the water. A leafy stick was found to bring it to safety where it could dry out in the sun.
The main reason for visiting the pond was to see if we could find any dragons or damsels. We briefly saw a damsel and luckily (or should that be skilfully) BD was able to keep his eye on it when it went in to the trees and refound it several minutes later on a dead twig half way up a bush.
Back at the car a 'probable' Garden Warbler kept us entertained and guessing for ages but refused to show itself unlike the several Blackcaps singing in the same patches of bushes.
Footling round the sunny and sheltered car park gave us the opportunity to have a close look at some butterflies too, like this female Orange Tip.
Our Garden Warbler quest was abandoned and we headed to a nearby woodland. By now it was mid afternoon and the birds had gone quiet. Apart from the noisy Robins we only saw a Blue Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The scent coming from the carpet of Bluebells was delicious and worth the visit alone!
Time was passing now but we were still able to visit the river a mile or two downstream. Two women and their dog set off along the path ahead of us and probably flushed the Kingfisher (160) that whizzed past us in a hurry. That was our target bird here and we had hoped for perched views not the 100mph flight view we just had. We turned back hoping it would have stooped at the weir by the bridge. It hadn't, or at least wasn't there by the time we got there. Crossing the road we walked upstream. Still no sign of the Kingfisher but Chaffinches, a Pied Wagtail and several unseen fish were making the most of a Mayfly hatch.
Along the riverbank a male Orange Tip teased us by settling for minutes at a time but never very near and when it was closer it didn't settle for more than a few seconds not allowing a decent shot at it.
We had enough time left before returning to Base Camp to call in briefly at another site to look for Little Ringed Plovers. None were found on the pool but the Common Terns fishing along the canal were a joy to watch.
And so endeth our last excursion for at least a couple of weeks or so.
Where to next? It can only be garden news from Base Camp for a while and it could be a few days or more until we can hold the camera again.
In the meantime let us know who's been fluttering by in your outback.


Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Road trip to the end of the lands

The Safari continued the road trip all the way down to bottom of Cornwall. Not so much of a wildlifing trip more a 'normal' sightseeing tour with Wifey. Not that we saw many sights as the Cornish mist and drizzle came down for the duration.
This road is supposed to be one of the most scenic in England with extensive views over the sea, cliffs, moors. Scenery? What scenery?
There were odd patches of mistless road.
We visited St Michael's Mount were there's been an American Hudsonian Wigeon running around the beach.
We spotted a Whimbrel down by the water with about a hundred gulls
We tried to get close but got a very wet foot sinking into quick sand and almost got it stuck. In the ensuing hoo-haa freeing our trainer from the ooze, (it didn't look like the ooze we know to avoid on our beach!) we managed to flush it with our antics. Foot extracted and planted on firmish ooze we fired off a few shots
No it wasn't the Hudsonian Whimbrel.
Once back at Base Camp we learned that a Bowhead Whale (only Britain's second ever) had been seen from the very spot a couple of days after we were there - Now that is bad timing!
The plan was to get up early every morning and go out to either Pendeen Light 
or Cape Cornwall
Lands End in the distance, Land Rover on the slipway
for a seawatch before breakfast but both the weather and our bed conspired against us and we never made it.
A very wet trip down to The Lizard saw us brave the rain at the stunning Kynance Cove where the drizzle dried up but the sun didn't come out and we apparently walked passed an Eastern Subalpine Warbler although to be fair we only heard a Wren singing, saw a couple of Stonechats and a Blackbird at the car park.
From there we headed back to our digs when the rain set in again making us not stop at Porthcurno and Porthgwarra. The road back took us towards Lands End but on the way we passed a group of birders stood at a farm gate. We pulled up and asked 'owt about?' to be told the Dalmatian Pelican was on a pool over the hill but on private ground and out of sight and hadn't been seen for ages. We'd forgotten about that and thought they might have been looking at something else. Driving off by chance we looked in the rear view mirror to see one of the lads standing in the road waving and pointing frantically skywards. Wifey has never been so far so fast backwards. We screeched to a halt jumped out grabbed the bins and saw something like a pale Pterodactyl going way from us high over the fields, not the best views but Dalmatian Pelican (153) is now on the list, a World Lifer, many thanks guys if your reading this.
At Lands End more birders were stood in another farm gate. Again we stopped and learnt there was a Serin hiding in the nearby garden. We didn't see it but did find them a Barn Owl. Later we found out there was also a trio of Turtle Doves nearby and a Nighintgale in the same garden as the Serin.
Lands End was cold, wet, windy and very commercialised and not really our cup of tea and we couldn't find Wifey a Chough. She did add Guillemot (as did we (155)) and Shag to her year list there though.
A misty wander round St Ives was a very pleasant way to while away a few hours

As you can see the sun did eventually come out and an ice cream had to be had. A walk down the jetty in the bottom pic came up with a nice wildlife surprise.
Two big Spider Crabs were having a barney but by the time we reached them they'd settled their differences and gone their separate ways.
From there we made our way to Drift Reservoir where a Great White Egret has been regularly seen. We stopped at the Hayle estuary dipping the regular Spoonbill there, probably hidden in one of the low tide creeks.
Drift Reservoir
We saw the Great White Egret (154) distantly, but it did a disappearing trick before we could get the scope set up for Wifey to have a look at it. A real shame as it would have been a lifer for her.
Our time in the furthest corner of this isle was at an end and it was time to head back to Base Camp in the morning.
The return journey gave us five Buzzards, two Kestrels, no Red Kites and the trips only Sparrowhawk. The roads were very much death free, fortunately just two Badgers and two Hedgehogs.
Once back at Base Camp we looked at the number plate again.
After our total of 1250 miles there were still not many bugs splattered which says something about the state of the English and Welsh countryside, no wonder some of our birds are struggling.
A great trip and one that's going to be repeated next year.
The following day we had a shopping trip to restock the cupboards and decided to go to the nearby docks rather than the local shops. Why? Because we saw many Common Terns (156), 11 Black Terns (157) and a pair of Arctic Terns (158).
Where to next? Hospital for another hand operation tomorrow but we did have a bit of a safari last Sunday to tell you about in a couple of days when we feel up to tapping away with one left hand finger.
In the meantime let us know who's avoided the quicksand in your outback.